Online reputation management is absolutely important in the age of social media. 

You will agree with me that this is a rather logical assertion because I bet we’ve all come across brands or individuals who have amazing social media profiles. They have very engaging and eye-catching profiles.

More importantly, such brands or people are more likely to come off as genuine and trustworthy. 

In fact, statistical evidence shows that when done appropriately, online reputation management enhances the likelihood of selling to potential customers. Conversely, ignoring your online reputation can cost you customers.

Actually 94 percent of potential customers say an online review has convinced them to avoid a business. 

What is Online Reputation Management (ORM) Anyway?  

ORM simply refers to practices that influence or shape public opinion about a brand or any other entity on the worldwide net.

Assessing your current online reputation is the first step of any effective ORM. Then you need to build and maintain positive brand awareness. 

In terms of gathering data, experts recommend social media as the ideal tool to analyze influential topics, trending conversations, industry trends and competitor benchmarking.  

Maintaining a positive reputation is more important than generating brand awareness and positive reviews. It’s simple!  Destroy it, your brand suffers  

Take the example of  United Airlines, a company that knows too well how to turn a social media outrage into a total crisis. 
In April  2017, Facebook and Twitter users harshly criticized the airliner over a viral video showing a nasty scuffle between a passenger and a flight attendant who had refused to vacate his seat to make room for a United employee.

The online backlash stemmed from the fact that the passenger, Dr. David Dao was injured in the resulting confrontation as Security officers tried to forcibly evict him from the sold-out Flight 3411. Reportedly, the officers struck Dr. Dao’s face against a seat resulting in two missing teeth, a concussion, and a broken nose. 

Here is a summary video from CNN. 

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz, turned things from bad to worse when he attacked Dr. Dao, blaming him for the fiasco and calling him “disruptive and belligerent.

These misplaced comments sparked an online crisis as what had started as a few posts from fellow passengers turned into an uncontrollable outrage about the company’s overbooking policies. 

Within a few hours, United Airlines had reached millions of mentions catapulting the crisis to the front page of multiple social platforms. On Twitter, for example, #NewUnitedAirlineMottos was the top trending topic with tweets such as “prepare for a beating” and “not enough space” dominating the feed.

The United Airlines debacle resulted in a damaged reputation and financial losses too including compensation paid to Dr.Dao and up to $1 billion loss in stock value.   

In fact, United recently admitted that the incident was a ” defining moment for United Airlines and it is our responsibility to make sure we as a company … continue to learn from that experience.”

Now then, there are several lessons to learn from the United crisis.

Firstly is the fact that Social Media has made it more difficult for companies to hush up or contain crises.

Business owners should acknowledge the fact that the digital business landscape has evolved to the point where missteps and embarrassing situations can be broadcasted globally meaning things can quickly turn ugly. 

United and other companies need to stay on top of important keywords related to the brand and monitor industry as well as mainstream press. This ensures that nothing gets misconstructed or taken out of context.

The second lesson is that you should own the problem when it does happen because the wrong message will easily make things worse.

Instead, Munoz was unempathetic with his customers and his statement made the airliner look brutal and insincere. He only acknowledged the situation was handled poorly after social media users called for his resignation.

The most important lesson: Social media makes it easier to engage with customers and thus offers massive opportunities to shape brand storytelling. 

The aftermath of the fiasco on Flight 3411 clearly shows that social media can be a place for customers to express their dissatisfaction.

In fact, more than 130,000 social media engagements were recorded within the first two days – compared with the average of 600-1000 daily engagements prior to the incident involving Dr.Dao. 

But Social media is also a useful tool to shape brand storytelling and sway brand ambassadors.

Experts say it’s simple; just listen and engage with your customers constantly.  

Customer engagement is all about leading with content, not products, and encouraging your customers to enjoy and share the brand experience your company offers.

In other words, your offer value in exchange for your customers’attention. Interacting with your customers this way is much more effective than email strategies because it co-creates better experiences that increase the likelihood of recruiting brand ambassadors.  

According to Marketo – a global leader in marketing automation- effective customers engagement means you listen to your customers across multiple channels and respond in an appropriate way. 

In terms of responding to a PR blunder, owning your mistakes is the quickest way to avoid negative reviews or media shaming as was the case in the United fiasco.

Had CEO Munoz done this, he would probably have maintained his job and head off the crisis that ensued. 

I’m convinced if he’d thought of how many people carried smartphones on Flight 3411 the first apology would not be “for having to re-accommodate passengers.” Unsurprisingly thousands of social media users latched on to the idea of re-accommodation as a  coy term for dragging people out of a plane. 

Social media management
Oscar Munoz’s apology was ridiculed on social media by multiple users

Lastly, customer engagement should be done on a regular basis and not only during times of a crisis.

Remember in the current digitally connected world, many brands are using social media to interact with their customers; therefore to set yourself apart and thrive you need to constantly create meaningful interactions over time.

The ultimate goal is to attract potential customers without giving them a hard sell.

Your aim as a business leader is to inspire advocacy and intimacy. Of course, this is unachievable in a single transaction meaning that your brand needs to have a constant presence- allowing you to address customer issues as soon as they arise and quickly head off  PR blunders that could potentially become viral.  

Eliud is a WordPress Website Designer, Content Creator (copywriter) and SEO-Expert living in Nairobi, Kenya. He is a fan of technology, design, and entrepreneurship. Eliud’s other interests include writing, reading and innovation.

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